In 1910, Korfovskaya, a stranger is searching for a grave of a man he once knew and had buried. We then go back in time to 1902, and we are introduced to a military explorer named Arsenev (Yuriy Solomin), a Captain travelling with armed men sent by the Russian army. Arsenev and his troop have been tasked to travel among the unmapped forests of Sikhote-Alin in Russia’s Far East. One evening by the campfire, Arsenev and his men hear a noise and discover a local hunter seeking rest and food. The hunter receives a kind welcome and is given warmth by the fire, and a meal is provided. He soon reveals that his name is Dersu Uzala (Maksim Munzuk).
Dersu begins to share about himself and his past life. We learn that he is a skilled hunter and was once a family man. Given Dersu’s skills as a hunter, he is soon invited by Arsenev and his men to help lead the way for them. Dersu is honoured and accepts the invitation. But as Dersu leads the way with his skills and wisdom, an unlikely bond and friendship develops between Arsenev and Dersu. Both men carry a different past and sense of life, but over time their friendship becomes more impacting and life-changing than either one could ever have imagined.
Filled with fantastically stunning sceneries and beautiful locations, Dersu Uzala is wonderfully adventurous right from the start. Our leads venture into many landscapes, such as woods, forests, and snow, keeping the film exciting and captivating. There is excellent drama and suspense throughout when our leads find themselves in trouble and life-threatening situations while exploring.
Performances from our leads are great, and they deliver compelling and dramatic characters to the screen. Characters are highly likeable, especially Dersu, who is always kind, calm and polite. Whenever he speaks, those around him stop and listen as he is filled with wisdom and experience. It’s impossible not to find his character likeable. Arsenev is also friendly, and it’s great to see his character change dramatically as the film progresses further, particularly as he learns and understands more about Dersu’s mind and heart.
Overall, this is a strong story about an unlikely and touching friendship. Performances here feel genuine, plus I enjoyed seeing the friendship grow more beautiful as the film progressed. Visually, I loved seeing the various settings and locations this film takes its audiences through, all of which kept the film highly captivating. It’s a slow-paced film, but my engagement was always present due to the delightful and charming story and the gratifying finale. No wonder this film won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film in 1976.